100: A Different Point of View

100: A Different Point of View

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

A Different Point of View

My sister taught me everything I really need to know, and she was only in sixth grade at the time.

~Linda Sunshine

I used to adore walking home from school. I remember the first time my mother let my sister and me take the mile and half walk on our own. I felt so grown up. Ready to take on the world — to prove to my mother that I really was capable of taking care of myself. I hated being young, and more than anything, I hated taking care of my older sister. She was different, and at the time we didn’t have a name for it. We didn’t discover until my teenage years that she was autistic. Our classmates would constantly ask what was wrong with her, why she looked the way she did, why she never spoke. I didn’t have any answers for them. How could I when I didn’t even have the answers for myself?

In every school there is a mean group of kids — kids who rule the schoolyard and bully their way through lunchrooms and swing-set lines. At our school, they relentlessly tormented my sister and it enraged me. They would follow us home and throw things at her as we walked. On several occasions my mother had to call the police because they had followed us to our front door. Why did it matter that she was different, why did they care? She wasn’t their sister — she was mine. As angry as I was, a part of me, I’m ashamed to admit, was embarrassed too.

I wanted so badly to just walk by myself. To be left alone with my thoughts and not have to listen to the things they shouted at her. Even then I felt like I was growing up too fast, that because of her I was being robbed of my own childhood. I resented it, and I resented her. I used to beg my mother to pick her up from school and let me walk on my own, just once, but it never happened. They needed me to help take care of her. To make sure she made it home safely. To their credit, they had no idea what they were asking of me.

Every day after school I would meet my sister at the library where we would walk home together. One afternoon, after a particularly bad day, she wasn’t there to meet me. I checked inside the library, her classroom, the front office, but she was nowhere. I became frantic asking anyone who knew us if they had seen her. Finally, one of the teachers told me that she saw her leave with a group of her classmates. I knew there was no way she left with anyone, let alone a group of kids. I immediately started running.

I ran so fast and so hard I thought I would pass out. My sides were on fire and screaming at me to stop but I kept going. I pushed my way through the sidewalks, rushing through groups of children, trying to spot her in the crowds. I ran so far that I nearly made it all the way home when I finally saw her. There was a busy street underneath a freeway overpass that we had to walk through every day. There were large embankments covered in ivy that flanked each side of the bridge. My sister was sitting on the overpass, legs dangling over the busy road below, her face completely devoid of emotion. Her back faced the busy freeway traffic and her hair was blowing from the force of the moving cars behind her.

Underneath the bridge was a large group of kids on bikes making figure eights, taunting her. Some even sat on the embankment itself, throwing what was left over from their lunches at her. Hitting her face, her body . . . I screamed at them to stop. Some of them actually did, startled by my yelling, a look of shame coming over their youthful faces. I was in a state of utter panic, unmatched even now into my adult life. I did everything I could think of to get them to stop. I threw my backpack at one of the older boys, pushed another to the ground, and frantically yanked another from his bike. I was trying to hurt them, make them pay, not just for today but every other day before. If I had rocks, I would have thrown them. If my nine-year-old body were stronger, I would have fought them. Forced them into submission. In the end, all it did was make them laugh. She was four years my senior and these kids were her classmates, they weren’t going to listen to me — a small, fourth grade girl.

Finally, it occurred to me there was nothing I could do to make them stop. Not just today, but any day. I had a moment of complete clarity when I realized that every day for as long as we went to this school, maybe any school, we would have to deal with this. We would have to endure it together. I picked up my bag and slowly climbed the steep embankment to my sister. I walked along the narrow ledge and silently made my way to her. I sat, legs dangling, hair blowing in the wind and looked at the world from my sister’s point of view. I saw blue sky, feathery clouds, and the tops of blossoming trees all around us. The noise from the traffic made it impossible to hear the crowd below and we just sat, quietly together. I reached down to hold my sister’s hand and for the first time, she squeezed back. Something passed between us on that bridge, something akin to understanding. That moment has lasted us a lifetime.

I never again felt ashamed or embarrassed to have her in my life. I am immensely lucky to have viewed the world through her eyes and my life is better because of it. Those kids never did leave her alone but it didn’t matter anymore. We learned something from them and they showed me how to be stronger. How to recognize when something is bigger than I am. It’s a lesson I have tried to teach my own children and something I hope to instill in all of you. See the world from a different angle and sometimes, just sometimes, everything changes.

~Audrey Clearwater

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